Saturday, June 5, 2010

Race to the Top: A Memorandum of Understanding

The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but no vision.
- Helen Keller

California on June 1st submitted a second application for the U.S. Department of Education Race to the Top fund. It has done so without much fanfare or discussion. Why?

How many school boards up and down the state have agreed to the requirements of the Race to the Top fund through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the California Department of Education without giving the public opportunity to comment on them?

Money should not be the motivator. If California is selected it may be awarded only up to 700 million dollars – that’s about 4 cents to the dollar compared to the 17 billion dollars already cut from California schools. Even then that pittance has to be applied toward the requirements of the fund and not to fill in the gaps created by budget cuts.

What are the requirements? Most of them are what educators have accepted as common sense good practices.

· An efficient system of collecting and sharing of student data.

· Formative assessments to guide instruction.

· Time during the school day for professional educators to meet as interdependent teams to collaboratively review the data to raise the level of learning for students.

· And the development of rigorous Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) courses.

There are other requirements however that needs closer scrutiny and a lot more discussion before acceptance. The scrapping of the California Content Standards to implement the Common Core Standards is one.

The National Governors Association Center (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) coordinated the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Its adoption is a requirement for the Race to the Top fund.

The Common Core State Standards is an attempt to have a national set of education standards. Standards from the standards-base movement clearly defines what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each school year. This is actually a good idea – that is why California and other states have their own set of content standards.

Some states unfortunately do not have what may be considered high-level rigorous academic standards. Expectations for students in those states are lower than in other states. It is therefore unfair to hold all states to the same level of accountability by the federal government. And so the U.S. Department of Education is pushing for a form of national standards.

The Common Core State Standards may be everything as advertised by its supporters but the school districts that signed the MOU agreement to accept them do not know that. The final version of those standards was not released until a day after California submitted its application to the federal government. How could school district leaders have possibly formed an opinion on the Common Core State Standards without having ever read them? It seems that that is the way legislation gets passed these days.

Federal government take over of industries seems the way of things too. Under Race to the Top, school districts will provide their data to the U.S. Department of Education for the purpose of evaluating the effectiveness of instructional materials, strategies, approaches, and to help drive educational decisions and policies. Apparently, education will eventually no longer be the responsibility of the states but totally under the province of the federal government.

We need look no further than No Child Left Behind (NCLB) to see the unintended consequences of direct federal involvement in education. NCLB’s original purpose to expand the core curriculum and close the gap between different groups of students was welcomed by many educators. Its implementation, however, created a different result. NCLB essentially destroyed standards-based education to replace it with test-based education. The curriculum was narrowed to just what would be measured in a once a year fill in the bubble standardized test. And closing the achievement gap seems to mean teaching to the test so that all students will give the same answer. If not, at least we know the purpose of erasers.

Race to the Top will not only extend that misfortune in education, but make it worse. Whereas No Child Left Behind penalized school districts for not making its goals – Race to the Top will directly go after teachers and principals. One can imagine the unintended consequences that will have on an industry already hard press to attract and retain the best of the best because of comparative low compensation.

Under Race to the Top districts will generate a teacher effectiveness rating for each teacher and a leader effectiveness rating for each principal. Effectiveness ratings will also be made public consistent with the requirements of the Race to the Top grant. Quantitative student growth shall constitute 30 percent or more of the overall teacher and leader effectiveness measures. Additional measures used in the calculation of effectiveness ratings may include student and parent surveys, student grades, teacher attendance, student attendance, and student graduation rates.

No Child Left Behind had the unintended consequence of narrowing the curriculum by forcing educators to teach to a test. Race to the Top will not only exacerbate that misfortune, but will also encourage the inflation of grades, the social promotion of failing students, and promote popularity contests.

And what have educators done to be treated as pedophiles under California’s Megan Law? What other professions are required to publicly publish effectiveness ratings? This requirement will not be a boost for a profession that cannot retain 50% of new teachers after five years.

Educators in California are handicapped with little resources. California is the worse in the nation not only in student to teacher ratio but also in total school staff. It spends less per student than most states do for their students. Apparently the profession, especially in California, that has done so much with so little is now expected to do the impossible with nothing or will be punished.

The school district leaders who agreed to the requirements of Race to the Top by signing the Memorandum of Understanding with the California Department of Education without a public discussion should have their effectiveness rating made public as unfit for duty.

Link to the Memorandum of Understanding -

Link to list of California districts that submitted the signed MOU

Link to California Race to the Top

Common Core Standards.

Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO)

The National Governors Association Center (NGA)

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